I called a fellow physician in Tuba City about a month ago to get his guidance.  I had a patient coming down off a several week binge who was open to inpatient rehab.  Despite my being here 28 plus years I wanted to confirm with my friend who has been working on the rez 30 years that despite there being high rates of drug and alcohol use on the reservation there’s still no treatment facilities.  I was hoping the resources had appeared miraculously under my radar.  Sadly, he confirmed that we’ve got new jails in Tuba City and Kayenta to temporarily detain people for public intoxication but no rehabilitation centers. Yet, the Navajo nation and indigenous people in general have one of the highest suicide rates in the country which often occurs under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. It’s a problem that’s been well documented.

“The game of life is hard to play.

I’m going to lose it anyway.

The losing card I’ll someday lay.

So this is all I have to say…

That suicide is painless.

It brings on many changes.

And I can take or leave it if I please.”

MASH theme song by Johnny Mandel


Case in point.  I’ve know Josie since shortly after I arrived in 1987.  I’ve taken care of her in her pregnancies, am watching her kids grow up and was with her on that hot, windy day in June of 1994 when she walked down the aisle for the first time, her father at her side while her sister secured her dress.


When I went to her in 2011 with the idea of photographing her infant daughter JC for a campaign to raise awareness on CO2 emissions she and her husband Hank were there for me.


Her oldest son Kordell attended high school in Tuba City.  He competed against my son Jamaal who attended school in Page. Josie and I talked often about how our boys were doing.  She told me that Kordell enjoyed competing against Jamaal who made him play harder, play his best.

Talking with Josie now a year after Kordell shot himself at age 16 it sounds like she could see it coming.  Despite their best efforts Kordell didn’t heed his parents interventions.  Though the reservation is dry, drugs and alcohol are plentiful.  Now it’s Josie’s mission to raise awareness regarding drug and alcohol use while trying to get the tribe to build a rehabilitation center. She realizes the problem is multifaceted – that the education system needs a robust overhaul, after school programs need to be created and sustained, youth centers are needed and meaningful work is missing on the reservation where the unemployment rate hovers around 50%.  Despite the odds she feels it’s what she’s being called to do.  She doesn’t want Kordell’s death to be in vain though 2 other suicides occurred in the family shortly after Kordell’s.  Yet she remains positive.





1. jc-getting-her-hair-braided


2. josey-breastfeeding











There’s work to be done; the struggle continues.  Stay tuned…

  12 comments for “suicide + the human spirit

  1. January 24, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Thank you. The story will be remembered.


  2. Gary O'Brien
    January 25, 2016 at 9:03 am

    Chip. Thank you for your care, concern and service. The fact there are no rehab facilities boggles my mind.


    • Paul
      January 25, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      It shouldn’t boggle your mind. It’s the same, good old fashioned genocide we’ve waged on Indian Country for generations.


  3. Paul
    January 25, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    My wife used to be the nurse executive of the adolescent care unit in Fort Defiance and became somewhat of an expert as to what resources are available to addicts and their families. She was formerly a drug and alcohol addiction counselor before moving to the rez. You might want to talk to her. I believe you’re friends with her on Facebook.


    • January 25, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      Actually, I’d love to talk with your wife about this. I spent part of the morning meeting with a mental health counselor and a nurse case manager discussing what the options are for inpatient drug and alcohol rehab.

      I’m assuming you’re the same Paul who made the genocide comment above. It’s my understanding that the Navajo nation is tasked with providing mental health counseling and rehabilitation services, not the Feds in which case that’d be fratricide.


  4. Nomore
    January 25, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    I married into a Navajo family. Unfortunately, my husband’s father took his own life after many years of alcohol abuse. I fear my husband is on the same path. It seems as if there need be major changes within the tribe (not just the Navajo Nation) to make it more unacceptable and far more difficult to obtain the alcohol and drugs. I know that it would be next to impossible though. My thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by the abuse of drugs and alcohol on all Reservations.


  5. Jt
    January 26, 2016 at 12:18 am

    My daughter has been living on the streets in Phoenix for over 15 years. I am raising her son now 10. It is very sad. I have brought her home and took her to tuba city but they couldn’t really help because they said something has to happen before they proceed. Such frustration.


    • jetsonorama
      January 26, 2016 at 6:20 am

      thank you for sharing this jt. i’m sorry to hear this and that more can’t be done to help her.


  6. Berlinda Smith
    January 27, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I visit schools in the Western Navajo Agency….middle & high schools, as an outreach worker. Our agency area is huge compared to other agencies, we have two detention centers and two huge hospitals, so you only have two choices, jail or the hospital. I often hear politicians with platforms regarding our youth in our area, but unlike other areas of the Navajo reservation we have yet built any multipurpose youth centers or treatment facilities. This to me shows that youth/child welfare is not a priority.
    It is sad to hear the thoughts of kids during our presentations, sad because they are far too knowledgeable of things they shouldn’t and/or because they lack awareness in this “in your face” age in time. I can’t imagine knowing the kind of hopelessness many of these kids show in their responses, their behavior and seeing it in their eyes. Then we meet with parents & you see the same hopelessness in their eyes.—We do have opportunities where we meet with Council Delegates, President, & Vice President, they hear our concerns because they say they’re there to listen, but next thing you know a new administration is in office and next thing you know you, an advocate, are too old & you’re seen as a person who cannot possibly comprehend the plight of children & their families. It’s a vicious cycle in which you will find beautiful innocent young souls fallen through the cracks of a system that can’t even help itself. How does that saying go? “All roads paved with good intentions….” But we can’t wait for people & centers to help these kids & their families. I am willing to go on the road with Josie if it will help at least one parent & a child, but with hopes of saving all. Each day, the past 25 years, I’ve had the awesome opportunity to have worked each day for children & their families on & off the Navajo reservation. We all have something to offer….we just have to be brave & steadfast. Thx Chip! Beautiful story.


    • jetsonorama
      January 27, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      Hey Berlinda!

      Thanks so much for sharing this. You mentioned that there are other parts of the reservation with treatment facilities. It’s my understanding that there were facilities in Gallup at GIMC and Fort Defiance but both programs lost their funding. As you point out, we have no treatment facilities in Western Agency; however, I’m not aware of rehab/treatment facilities anywhere on the rez.

      I’ve been talking with the mental health counselor and a nurse case manager here at my small clinic. We’re attempting to streamline the process of getting people admitted to facilities off the rez; however, as you probably know this process has a lot of steps and the potential for losing patients in the process.

      Josey plans to do a trail ride from Shonto to Window Rock this July to raise the issue with council delegates. The new Navajo nation vice president is from this community so it seems now is a good time to petition for a treatment facility in Western Agency. I told Josey I’ll do whatever I can to assist. It’d be great if you have the time and energy to join us.

      Thanks again.


  7. Constences
    January 29, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    It is true. There are NO treatment facilities on the Navajo Nation. Only in border towns and larger cities, with a low retention rate when the patient returns to the reservation. I recently volunteered in a transitional facility in Gallup, NM … the numbers are staggering.
    And sadly, I’ve learned of two counselors that have succumbed to the claws of the very addictions they were so passionately working to make better. *smh* 😦
    It’s a never ending cycle that knows no boundaries. But… everyday I see hope. I see small changes that are BIG STEPS in one family’s road to recovery. By God’s grace there is still hope. We can’t give up.


    • jetsonorama
      January 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      hell yeah!


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